September 8, 2014KR BlogBlogEnthusiams

Being Literary Together

I recently moved across the country to a city about which I know almost nothing and where, although I am currently sleeping in my ex-girlfriend’s bed, I know almost no people. As soon as I got here, I started to search out other writers. It’s my immediate want, to have a community of writers about me, preferably queer and trans writers interested in formally weird essays and prose-poetics, which I recognize probably seems like a very limited kind of group.

This instinct is strongly enough instilled that I felt comfortable emailing some writers I have never met and inviting them for coffee, a gesture that was kindly met, my friendliness taken as socially acceptable rather than creepy (I think). I attended a reading where I drank a glass of wine. At a coffee shop, I ran into a poet I had met years before and she said “A lot of poets come here.” I joined a queer sci-fi book club.

All of which came to mind when I read the fantastic introduction to the recently released first issue of Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, put out by Lambda Literary and edited by Christopher Soto. It is available for free online here. The journal does not describe itself exclusively as a journal, but as an “intentional community space… we view the journal (and our reading series) as part of a whole artistic project and not individual fragments of work.” Further, the introduction stresses that “Nepantla is NOT an apolitical literary journal” and that the editors encourage readers to hold them accountable for any oppressive language or actions attached to the publication. And then, of course, it goes on to offer a range of brilliant poetics, as the reading series also offers a stunning number of outstanding voices.

I’m wondering what it means to nurture a literary community today. Not just to share our words through pages and screens, but to aspire to something beyond or in excess of a printed or projected object. And why we desire that, if we claim it’s about the written word anyway. Is an interest in words really enough to bring us together? When I was younger, I first found a community in zines, grimy and passed along and among friends until you likely met the writer or artist one day, a culture still thriving. I know that we often find some form of camaraderie in academic settings, too, and that performance poetics regularly come with their attendant lively and politically-engaged communities. The community of a writing group in a community center, or a class in a prison. The community of you handing a book to a friend who hands it to a friend.

I love the language in Nepantla, “a whole artistic project and not individual fragments of work.” It seems honest to me, like individual fragments of work were never what most writers were going for anyway. Why else would we submit to journals, if not to feel we are one writer among many, everyone with voices and perspectives regularly as similar to ours as they are different? We wanted things that other people could move among, maybe, or that could be placed beside this poem or that essay and talked about. Things that could be assembled, if not into a whole, then at least into something more. Things that could be held accountable, in the way passion for an idea should hold us accountable.

In a few weeks Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads is coming to the city where I now live. This is the tour of Topside Press, a relatively new press dedicated to transgender writers. It will feature Topside authors Sybil Lamb and Casey Plett alongside local trans and queer writers from each location. I am going to go there and, although I have already read the books on tour, I will go because I seek that thing in excess of a page. I expect that this, like Nepantla, will be an intentional community space, that it will both bring the voices of the writers to a wider world and encourage a greater number of marginalized writers to publish and write. Which is maybe the simple truth of why literary community, in whatever form, matters in the first place—that even as we develop our craft, it remains as much about the voices of strangers and friends as the voices of ourselves.